STATE MAN (Paul Townend) beats HONEYSUCKLE (centre) and VAUBAN (left) in The Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle Leopardstown 5 Feb 2023 - Pic Steven Cargill / Racingfotos.com

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day One Preview, Tips

We're back! The 2024 Cheltenham Festival is here, and I can't wait! Finding winners will, in the main, be tricky; though value is lurking everywhere. The job of our race previews will be to combine those two challenges to try to give you something to cheer and something back at the end of it. I've asked a few smart judges to help me with the previews, so as well as a trio of races each day from yours true, there's one daily preview each from our own David Massey, plus Rory Delargy, Gavin Priestley and John Burke. All the fun of the fair - let's crack on!

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. The big roar that accompanies this race sometimes feel like a racecourse full of punters has been holding its collective breath for 361 days (or 362 this time around). And the traditional curtain-raiser is usually a very satisfying conclusion to the prior hiatus, pitching together a raft of exciting unexposed types all with even grander aspirations down the line.

In the recent past, the Supreme has not been the Irish benefit it might appear at first glance. Yes, Barry Connell won it last year with the sadly absent from the Festival this time Marine Nationale, but before that Nicky Henderson prevailed in both 2022 and 2020 - and 2016 - and Tom George took the major honours in 2018. Odd years Ireland, even years UK? Probably not, but that's a nice symmetry to remind us that the domestic runners have performed well in recent renewals.

Since 2011, 0nly the very talented monkey Labaik won this without having also scored the time before, and he was 25/1 when the tapes rose (he should have been almost that price to actually jump off). You're not getting north of 4/1 about Firefox who was similarly vanquished the last day. Of course, his supporters will protest that he was up half a mile in trip and didn't stay; maybe that's right, and his form at this range - notably when beating the presumed superstar Ballyburn the time before - stands very close scrutiny for all that it was 'only' a 24-runner maiden hurdle. Let me put it another way: while it won't necessarily stop him winning, Labaik is the only horse this century to win the Supreme having finished further back than third on his prep run. If you still like Firefox (I do, just not his price), you may be heartened to know that he, like Labaik, is trained by Gordon Elliott.

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Willie Mullins naturally saddles a phalanx of blue bloods, and his first choice normally wins. Indeed, going back to Ebazayin, a 40/1 scorer for Mullins in 2007, that was his only - and therefore first choice - entry. He's since won another five Supremes, each ridden by the stable jockey (Ruby four times, Paul Townend once). That Paul has opted for Tullyhill is a potential red herring this year because Mystical Power has a retained jockey - and there is nothing to separate them in the market as I write (Sunday afternoon).

Mystical Power runs in the green and gold of JP McManus, but is co-owned by Susannah Ricci and Mrs John Magnier. He's by Galileo out of the star mare Annie Power, which perhaps explains the ownership triumvirate - or at least two-thirds of it. He's three from three to date - a bumper, a novice at the Galway Festival, and the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer in January. Winners of the Moscow Flyer include Douvan, Vautour, Min, and more recently Impaire Et Passe. While the form of this season's renewal has yet to be franked, Mystical Power bolted up by seven lengths and he is yet to be extended.

Closest to A Dream To Share in last year's Grade 1 Punchestown bumper was Tullyhill, who got off the mark at the second time of asking over timber having been second on debut at odds of 1-8. Ouch! The bridge jumpers knew their fate early, mind, as he overraced from the start, jumped poorly throughout and was spent by the second last, eventually beaten a whopping 24 lengths that day. Of course, that effort was all wrong as he showed when waltzing home by seven in a maiden field of 25 next time, and more materially when dotting up by nine in a Listed novice on heavy ground last time. That form is questionable in the context of a race like this, though he beat Jigoro by slightly further than did Mystical Power, and he couldn't really have won any more easily.

If you liked Ballyburn for this, his representative is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Slade Steel, who was third and second to the Gallagher Novices' Hurdle favourite in a bumper and a Grade 1 novice hurdle respectively. De Bromhead has ostensibly a poor record in this - though a great record at the Festival - but closer scrutiny reveals that of his eight previous runners, Captain Guinness was brought down two out when still tanking along, Ballyadam finished second, and Inthepocket was fourth, all since 2020 and from just four entries. Henry is perhaps the best target trainer of all in recent Festivals, his hit rate at the last five being a scarcely believable one in seven.

 

 

A bit of a wise guy horse on the preview circuit has been Mistergif, another Willie wunner, this one in the double green of Munir and Souede. Rated 75 or so on the flat in France, he failed to win in nine starts before trying hurdling. Under the new code, he was fifth in a Listed race on his debut and then second in a conditions event, both at Auteuil; but the horse that beat him on that final French start is zero from five (fallen three times, third once) since. True, since transferred to Closutton he's won his maiden by a street, but again that form looks shallower than the toddlers' end at your local baths. He's pretty exposed is this chap and he's shown very little. Of course, he can win, but there's now't in the book to say he should.

Let's go back to the Brits and those even numbers. Nicky Henderson bids for a 2020/22/24 treble with Jeriko Du Reponet, in the same McManus ownership as Mystical Power. Winner of his point by 11 lengths from The Other Mozzie, a relatively modest chap under Rules to this point, he was a big talking horse before making his debut at Newbury at the start of December. He won there, and twice subsequently, but without looking a star on any of those occasions. That said, the most recent effort was in the Grade 2 Rossington Main where the horses beaten into second and third ran 1-2 in the G2 Dovecote next time; that adds some much needed ballast to Jeriko's form.

On numbers, the Seven Barrows runner has plenty to find; but when we consider that Nicky also had second placed Jonbon behind Constitution Hill in 2022 and third placed Chantry House (and fifth placed Allart at 33/1) behind Shishkin in 2020, as well as third placed Buveur d'Air behind Altior in 2016, it's fair to say that he has unleashed some serious horsepower in the Supreme. In fact, overall, 17 of Henderson's 32 runners in the race finished in the first three - take that, Willie! There's a leap of faith required with this chap that there isn't with some of the Irish Grade 1 horses but that's reflected in their respective odds. One does need to keep a weather eye on the yard's form, however, as there have been a fair number of P's on the recent Hendo score card. He hasn't had a runner, let alone a winner, since 2nd March and has just one entered pre-Cheltenham, at Plumpton on Monday.

 

What about Tellherthename for Ben Pauling? It's at this time of year that we hear plenty of "the best I've ever trained" bluster, and Pauling has gone on record as naming this fellow in that category. The son of Malinas, a £200k purchase at Cheltenham this time last year having won his Irish point, was a close second on debut behind the subsequent Grade 1 winner Jango Baie, and followed that up with a 14 length verdict over Lucky Place, who went on to narrow Grade 2 defeat subsequently. Clearly not right when reopposing Jango Baie in that G1 he was pulled up on the soft ground there before beating the geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse Dartmoor Pirate into second at Huntingdon last time. The Pirate has since run a mighty fourth of 17 in the famously competitive EBF Final last Saturday, with Pauling novices filling out the first two places there! Tellherthename was withdrawn from the Betfair Hurdle on account of the ground and connections will want it to dry out as much as possible for their charge. With the forecast being for persistent drizzle and light rain, official going of soft is a very short price. That would have to count against this lad.

One who would be right at home in the mud and at a massive price, too, is Favour And Fortune, second in the aforementioned Aintree G1, and a winner on heavy previously. He was just touched off in a muddling three horse race last time (heavy) with this tempo expected to be more his metier. He was thumped in the Champion Bumper here a year ago (soft), however, so just might not be good enough.

I'm struggling to make a case for any of Kings Hill, Supersundae and Gold Dancer. The latter pair are both trained by Willie Mullins and both came with ostensibly good French form. Gold Dancer could conceivably step forward significantly from his first run for his new trainer but he'd very much need to.

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

Closutton holds the key to the pace. Mistergif led on his sole Irish start though that was a maiden hurdle only, while Tullyhill has led the last twice. Firefox has also led in two of his last three, likewise Tellherthename. Even to fast looks the most likely pace setup on the scant evidence we have.

 

 

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

This looks very open between the top four or five in the market, none of which would be a surprise winner. Mystical Power and Tullyhill are a coin toss for which one finishes ahead, my suspicion being that Mystical Power might edge that side bet. Firefox requires a leap of faith that the longer trip was the reason for his below par effort last time; even if you buy that, questions can be asked as to why he was tested over that extended range; he's a very good horse - duh - but plenty short enough in the betting for my liking. And that brings us to Jeriko Du Reponet and Slade Steel. The former has his trainer's long term Supreme record very much in his favour, but his trainer's recent form very much not. On balance, unless he drifts to a double figure price, I'll let him beat me - if he did drift he'd be playable win only, I think. Slade Steel has a top trainer and top form behind Ballyburn (who was a strong favourite for this before defecting to the Gallagher). He'll be finishing strongly and looks a solid each way alternative to a 'nothing between them' top of the market.

Suggestion: Back Slade Steel e/w at 5/1 or bigger, four places if you can find 'em

Tix Pix: Tix is a smart multi-race bet placement tool that is free to use. You can find it here. There are guaranteed million pound daily placepot pools and £50,000 jackpot pools, with stakes as low as a penny. For obvious reasons (all on the same horses), Tix Pix cannot select the horses I intend to play. Instead, I'll share where I think I'm going narrow or deep. In this race I'll be playing A's only on jackpot and brace for an early bath. Check out Tix here >

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2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. More Grade 1 action, you lucky people, as the first foray over fences, the Arkle Challenge Trophy, follows the Supreme. Somewhat downgraded by the absence of a number of high profile horses, most recently and notably Marine Nationale, the reigning Supreme champ, we're left with a competitive but trappy wagering challenge.

As I write there are four horses priced at 5/1 or shorter, headed - just - by Gaelic Warrior. Trained by Mullins for Ricci, he was presumed for the Turners after his romp in the Grade 1 Faugheen Novices' Chase over two and a half miles at Christmas. But then came Leopardstown and the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) where, in the Grade 1 novice chase there, he just ran a shocker. Mistakes with his fencing likely contributed to him dropping out of contention from before three out, and he was well beaten when unshipping Paul Townend at the last.

It's not obvious, to me at least, why he's running here rather than the longer race on Thursday, and he's a very shaky favourite in my book after that lamentable showing last time (at odds of 4/7). True, he had solid form prior to that, but was never in the Arkle conversation. Perhaps the defection of Marine Nationale has to do with his arrival in this slot, but I just don't like his prep at his price. The first time hood doesn't look a plus either - Willie Mullins has saddled 30 horses with a hood at Cheltenham in the last five years and only one of them won:

 

 

Willie also has Il Etait Temps, soundly enough beaten by GW at Limerick in that Faugheen but a winner either side, most recently in the G1 Irish Arkle, also at the DRF. He too wears a hood here and, though more likely to run his race than Gaelic Warrior, I feel, his best race is not as good as that one's, and only a fine margin in front of Found A Fifty, just a neck back last month. Found A Fifty has led in each of his four chase spins and will face pace contention here; that might compromise his chance. In any case, he looks a little way behind peak showings from the other pair mentioned so far.

My Mate Mozzie was only a length and a half behind Found A Fifty but hasn't raced this year, and his best form looks to be on better ground.

The fourth sub-5/1 musketeer at time of writing is Hunters Yarn, and he's a third wheel for Willie. It didn't really work out for Hunters in the County last season, sent off 11/2 but finishing mid-div, and he's been beaten twice from three starts since: he was second in a G2 novice hurdle at Fairyhouse last Easter before kicking off over fences with a tumble at the last when clear. Most recently, he bolted up on his second attempt at a beginners' chase and, while he's generally a very good jumper, he made a horlicks in each of those chase starts. Even in what looks a sub-par Arkle, he doesn't seem quite good enough on the evidence to date.

Remember Quilixios? He was a very smart juvenile hurdler and the Triumph winner in 2021. In the following season he was bested three times by Teahupoo at two mile trips before having a long (nearly two years) spell on the sidelines. Back this season as an older, stronger horse he's won two of three chases, both ungraded. In between times, he was thumped in the G2 Florida Pearl over three miles. Whilst it's perfectly fair to assume he didn't stay there, the balance of his post-injury form requires a lot to be taken on trust regarding retained ability.

Mention this in hushed tones, but is it possible that this year's Irish cohort are not as good as normal? The best of the home guard could be Jpr One, trained by Joe Tizzard. Joe is in good form - two notable winners at Sandown's big weekend fixture - and this one has a nice bit of experience after four chase outings. He unseated at the last over course and distance in November, when seemingly having the race in the bag, but had a win before and since. The 'since' comprises two runs, a third place in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase when making a mistake two out, and a win last time in the G2 Lightning Novices' Chase on very soft ground at Lingfield, narrowly from the re-opposing Matata. Matata is one of the pace angles in the field and that may see him do too much too soon, whereas Jpr One tends to be handy but off the speed.

Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles both Matata and Master Chewy, the latter one of the more experienced chasers in the field. On his run behind Champion Chase hopeful Elixir De Nutz - beaten just a length and a half getting nine pounds - he is better than a 25/1 poke. And there are reasons to throw out his defeat behind Jpr One last time: specifically, he was almost brought down at the first as Matata veered right down the fence causing Djelo to fall and Master Chewy to take back in evasive fashion as the meat in the sandwich. He was unsure at his next couple of fences before regaining some composure but it might be that his race was run.

Authorised Speed doesn't look slick enough at his obstacles, and probably not good enough in any case.

Arkle Pace Projection

Lots of speed, most obviously from Found A Fifty and Matata, but also Gaelic Warrior, Jpr One and Authorised Speed - perhaps others, too.

 

 

Arkle Chase Selection

I really don't like this race from a betting perspective. You have to make excuses for the horses at the top of the market where their price doesn't allow for such latitude. And you have to be imaginative to see the horses lower down the lists beating the ones at the top. But perhaps this is a race for imagination play. In that spirit, I'll take the Brits to beat the Irish, primarily through Jpr One and Master Chewy.

Jpr One has the best domestic form but not by much; he also has a trainer in form and can handle conditions. Master Chewy is a bit of a punt but, if ridden patiently, he might be able to pick up the pieces... and if they go a million on the front then he could just nick the whole enchilada. Of course, he's priced as though he has little chance and that may be how it transpires. Caveat emptor.

Suggestion: Try one or both of Jpr One 9/1 and/or Master Chewy 25/1 each way and cheer Blighty against the raiders.

Tix Pix: Spreading out all over A, B and C in what looks a trappy race. Check out Tix here >

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2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3 handicap, 3m1f)

Previewed by Gavin Priestley, FestivalTrends.co.uk.

The Ultima is the first handicap of the meeting and is a hyper-competitive race that can throw up some very useful performers. Last year's winner Corach Rambler, which was doubling up in the race having scored in 2022, went on to win the Grand National on his next start while the horse he beat by a neck, Fastorslow, went on to win a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival subsequently and now sits second in the betting for Friday's Gold Cup.

Although they've been getting closer in recent times (2nd and 4th last year), the Irish don't have a great overall record in the Ultima (0/38 since 2007) and you have to go back to 2006 and Tony Martin's Dun Doire to find their last winner. That doesn't mean Ireland doesn't have a say in the race, though, as Irish-bred horses have been responsible for the last five winners and ten of the last 11 (exception French-bred).

A top six finish last time out is very important (14 of the last 15, exception unseated rider) as is a run at Cheltenham previously (all of the last 17 winners, with Dun Doire the last horse to win without course experience) while all of the last ten winners have been rated 139+ (an emerging trend has seen eight of the last ten renewals go to a horse rated 139-148).

All of the last 16 winners had raced at least once since the start of Newbury's Coral Cup Handicap Chase meeting the previous November.

Applying these trends leave us with a shortlist of 4 horses: Monbeg Genius, Victtorino, Chianti Classico & Lord Du Mesnil who range in age from a 6yo to an 11yo.

20 of the 24 winners this century have been aged 7-9yo but there's been an 11yo winner in 2021, a couple of 10yo winners (2007 & 2010) plus a French-bred 6yo in 2018. The three winners before the turn of the century were all 10 & 11yo's so I'm not sure age is too much of an issue for this race.

What is worth noting, however, is that 11 of the last 14 winners had raced fewer than ten times over fences and interestingly nine of the last 12 winners had worn some king of headgear (cheekpieces, hood or blinkers). Five of the last 13 winners had run in the Ultima Handicap the previous year.

If we look through the form of the four horses on our shortlist we can see that one of them was third in this race last year, just two lengths off Fastorslow, has run only eight times over fences and his trainer reaches for the first time cheekpieces. The Irish-bred 8yo, MONBEG GENIUS, has long been my fancy for this race and despite his relatively underwhelming run at Kelso a couple of weeks ago that did come on the back of a long break since his excellent Newbury Coral Gold Cup Handicap Chase third where he had picked up an injury. He raced strongly until tiring from the second last at Kelso and I'm hoping that he may have just needed the run that day. His trainer Jonjo O'Neill won the race three times between 2009-2014 and horses that had run in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury that season won in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2023.

He ticks every box and looks a typical Ultima winner. I retain the faith in him and think he has an excellent chance at a decent price.

Ultima Pace Projection

Just an even gallop in prospect in all likelihood despite the large field.

 

 

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

Back MONBEG GENIUS 1pt EW 14/1 (6 places)

Tix Pix: A's and B's and not straying far from the top of the market.

Check out Tix here >

 

Festival Trends

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3.30 Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. In what amounts to a tragedy for fans of the sport, Contitution Hill has been suffering with an infection that has sadly ruled him out of this year's Champion Hurdle. He was long odds on to retain his crown having cruised home by a wide margin in his only run of the season, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. I'm daring to dream that he might show up at either or both of Aintree and/or Punchestown, but realistically it might be better to get him right and go again in a (please God) busier 2024/25 campaign. It should be remembered that he's only seven, so time is very much on his side.

Anyway, enough of the no show, and on with the show show. Every leading man needs a capable deputy, and there can be no finer understudy at the entire meeting to step into the big man's shoes than State Man. Like the absent champ, he is also seven and his record reads well. Very well. F11111121111. The '2' was behind Connie Hill last year, and nothing else has got to within three lengths of him in eight - EIGHT! - Grade 1's before and since the lowering of his colours a year ago. He normally races handily or on the lead, though was held up in last year's Champion Hurdle presumably in the hope the hill found out the Hill, he's won G1's on all ground types softer than good, and he's a country mile clear on ratings. What's not to love? Well, his price maybe, because it's a very short price, though that's not to say it doesn't represent value.

If any horse can stop State Man's procession to glory it might be Irish Point, in the Robcour colours and trained by Gordon Elliott. This time last year, while State Man was getting closest to Constitution Hill, Irish Point was winning a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Naas. He's since won the 2m4f Grade 1 Mersey Novices' at Aintree, and then this season he's added a Grade 3 at Down Royal and the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. So far so good. But that Leopardstown race is contested over almost three miles and, as the name suggests, it was contested at the end of last year. Not since then have we seen this fella. It was a terrifically convincing score there but in a slow time beating (relatively) slow horses. I don't see how that makes him second pick for a Champion Hurdle. But I've been wrong about such things many times before.

Iberico Lord was supplemented for this after the defection of stablemate Constitution Hill, and he has serious handicap winning form this term. Specifically, he won the Greatwood over course and distance in November and then the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February. The third and fifth from the Betfair finished 1-2 in the Imperial Cup at the weekend so that form looks solid. In between times, Iberico Lord was well beaten at Ascot and perhaps it was a combination of the slower pace and faster turf that did for him. It should be at least a little bit softer here but whether there's much pace in the race remains to be seen. Whilst he's obviously progressive, he's got about a stone and a half to find on official ratings if the favourite runs to within a pound or three of his mark.

It's possible that Luccia could be sent on in a bid to force a stronger pace, she herself having made all in the race when her barn mate Iberico flopped; but that's not her normal run style. And nor should a 140-rated mare be in the same conversation as a 165+ gelding.

The wonderful veteran Not So Sleepy is hard as nails and still retains plenty of ability even at the ripe old age of twelve. His form in the race is P565 and, though he did win the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth, that was 94 days ago and a weaker G1 you'll struggle to find. Please don't misunderstand me: I love this bloke; I just don't want to bet him to win a Champion Hurdle.

Willie also has Zarak The Brave, who is at least vaguely credible for the frame at a price. His form this season is 1P1, wins in the Galway Hurdle (off 145 in a field of 19 on goodish ground) and a Naas Grade 3 in a small field on soft sandwiching a flunk when he was found to have been post-race clinically abnormal. I'm not entirely sure what that means but perhaps it was a fibrillating heart; conjecture aside, if he can bring his A game he is one of the few within a stone of State Man on ratings.

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

Either or both of Not So Sleepy and Luccia could go forward, but there's not a ton of obvious early speed.

 

Champion Hurdle Selection

This is all about State Man. He's a very unsexy price but might still be value at around 1/3. You can expect Iberico Lord to shorten if Nicky's team have shown anything prior to this race, and he looks the one with the most upside - he needs to be as the second lowest officially rated in the field and with 26lb to find on a strict interpretation of the book. I don't really fancy Irish Point, who in my view would have been better placed in the Stayers' Hurdle even if his owner does have Teahupoo for that. No, this is State Man's to lose. And I don't expect him to lose it.

Suggestion: Watch State Man win well. And/or back him to do likewise.

Tix Pix: If State Man is beaten, a lot of jackpots will go pop. Including mine. He's never raced on heavy

Check out Tix here >

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4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

Previewed by John Burke, VictorValue.co.uk. Let’s begin with what look like some of the key race trends.

Favourites (Clear & joint) have won 3 of the last 10 renewals of the Mares Hurdle and have performed 44% worse than market expectations. Eight of the last 10 winners had an Official Rating of 147 or higher. Six of the last ten winners were trained by Willie Mullins (4) and Henry De Bromhead (2).

Last year's Triumph Hurdle winner, Lossiemouth, made a highly impressive return to action here on Trials Day. While she's the clear favourite and the most likely winner, stepping up to 2m 4f poses a question mark on her stamina.

Lossiemouth’s nearest market rival, stablemate Ashroe Diamond, boasts an impressive record of five wins from six starts against her own sex. If the favourite falters due to stamina, Ashroe Diamond could capitalize, although the fitting of a first-time hood for a return to 2m 4f would be a slight concern. 

Love Envoi, winner of the Mares' Novices Hurdle here in 2022, finished a 1 ½ length second to Honeysuckle in this race last year. Although she hasn't been at her best this season, she was a 9 ½ length runner-up to Lossiemouth in the International Hurdle here (2m 1f) last time. We know she seems to thrive at the Festival and the fitting of first-time cheekpieces could improve her performance against Lossiemouth. Each-way claims remain.

The Henry de Bromhead pair of Telmesomethinggirl and Lantry Lady shouldn't be dismissed outright. Telmesomethinggirl, who returned to hurdling this season after a stint over fences, looked rusty on her seasonal return at Leopardstown but was a lot better when a 1¼ length 2nd of four to Zarak The Brave at Naas last time. It’s worth remembering that she was going well when brought down two out in this race in 2022. Lantry Lady, who falls into the "could be anything" category, boasts a perfect 2-2 record over hurdles with wins on heavy ground. The 2m 4f distance should bring out more improvement in her. Although Rachael Blackmore appears to prefer Telmesomethinggirl, Jack Kennedy is a capable substitute. Both of Henry de Bromhead's mares present each-way opportunities. The same trainer also saddles Hispanic Moon.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

An even pace is most likely, perhaps even a slow one. That said, plenty of owners and trainers are represented by multiple runners so they may send a 'hare' forward to chase. Regardless, it's not easy to see this being quickly run.

 

Mares' Hurdle Selection

The outcome of the race largely depends on Lossiemouth's ability to stay the 2m 4f distance today. If she manages to do so, she will outclass her rivals. However, her tendency to be keen raises a doubt about her effectiveness over longer distances. Excluding Lossiemouth, the race appears wide open. last year's runner-up, Love Envoi, is a contender for the places once again. However, I lean towards the Henry De Bromhead duo of Telmesomethinggirl and Lantry Lady. While Rachel Blackmore seems to prefer Telmesomethinggirl, Lantry Lady shows more potential for further improvement, making her the more intriguing option.

Suggestion: Lantry Lady – 0.5pts each way – 33/1 @ Bet365

Tix Pix: A's, B's and C's in here in search of a result, I think. Check out Tix here >

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4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Fred Winter, Grade 3, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by David Massey.

I was delighted to be asked by Matt to contribute to the Geegeez previews this week, and was even more delighted when he asked me to look at one of the key handicaps each day. Looking forward to working on the Ultima for Day One, imagine my horror when, instead, he gave me the Chinese puzzle ball that is the Boodles. Many thanks to our Dear Leader for his generosity! [Sorry mate! - Ed.]

The Boodles. Plot race, right? Just back the one that’s been given three quiet runs and a mark that’s well below what it’s really capable of. Well, have a look at the price of the winners over the past ten years - just one winning favourite, every other winner bar one returned at double figures including a 25-1 winner, three 33-1 winners and Jeff Kidder at 80-1, who had started out in the August of the previous year and was having his fifth start over hurdles. Stats, schmats. 

My starting point for this is Milan Tino, who wouldn’t fit many of the trends but has been given a chance by the British handicapper off a mark of 126, which looks very fair based on his French third to Jigme in a Grade 2 at Auteuil last October. Jigme went on to win the Grade 1 Grand Course later in the year and that form, along with what he’s achieved in two starts at Cheltenham this winter, make him a solid option. Physically, he’s looked a horse that wants further already to my eyes, and it can’t be a bad thing that he’s already shown form over a bit further than two miles, such stamina likely to come in handy on ground expected to ride soft on the first day after Sunday’s rain. 

Of the Irish, it’s tempting to go in with Willie’s Batman Girac after an eyecatching run at Leopardstown last time, one that certainly suggested the Boodles would be his next stop; but, despite some near misses, this is one race at the Festival that Closutton have yet to get the better of, and I’d prefer Willie Durkan’s Eagle Fang, who comes from the Naas race that has thrown up Brazil, Jazzy Matty, Aramax and Band Of Outlaws in recent times. The way he came clear in the closing stages, in heavy ground, was a good step up on anything he’d achieved previously and whilst this will be his sixth run over hurdles already, which you could argue means other, more lighty-raced types could improve past him, he’s more battle-hardened and should run his race. At 16-1 and bigger, with extra places on offer, that makes plenty of appeal. 

Back in fourth at Naas was Nara, who really has looked a Boodles project on her two starts on Irish shores so far. A ready winner on her only start in France at Auteuil (last April!), she looked very much in need of the experience when fourth to Nurburgring at Fairyhouse in December, her novicey jumping holding her back from finishing any closer than a one-paced fourth; but she travelled and jumped better at Naas, looking some sort of threat between three out and two out before her early exertions saw her flatten out late. The reapplication of the hood looks a smart move, as she was a bit keen pre-race and I don’t expect to see her in the paddock at Cheltenham until the bell for jockeys-up goes, at which point it’ll be straight in and straight out again. There should be more to come once she learns to take her racing better, for all you’d struggle to say she’s been thrown in here. 

If we’re looking for the Hail Mary, a phrase our editor Matt loves so much, then it has to be Latin Verse. He looks so unlike a Boodles winner it’s untrue - this will be his seventh hurdles start and he’s already raced in an all-aged handicap at Ludlow last time out, one which he won by no fewer than 19 lengths. A 10lb rise for that win not only looks lenient - Timeform expected him to get a stone and more - but it creeps him right into the bottom of the handicap. If you’re a lover of figures (and we are, of course) he comes out well on both form and time. In some ways he reminds me of last year’s fifth Mr Freedom, who took a totally different route from most Boodles campaigners and was having his tenth start of the season, having taken in a couple of handicaps, by the time he got to Cheltenham, but it didn’t stop him from that strong finish (and might have done better still but for his pilot almost coming off turning for home). I suspect Latin Verse can similarly show that experience is no bad thing when it comes to the Boodles. At 33-1 and six places, he has to be worth a few quid each-way. 

Boodles Handicap Hurdle Pace Projection

Not a map to place too much store by, because many can be expected to adopt a different run style now they're actually doing their best!

 

 

Boodles Handicap Hurdle selection

Try 28/1 Latin Verse or 20/1 Eagle Fang each way. 

Tix Pix: Depending on how much bankroll I've got left, I'll take as much A action as I can afford, and back up with some B's. There will be hedge opportunities on Betfair if it's worthwhile. Check out Tix here >

 

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5.30 National Hunt Chase (Grade 2, 3m 6f)

Previewed by Rory Delargy. The National Hunt Chase has changed markedly in character since gaining Grade 2 status and being shortened in trip. What used to be a race for Corinthian amateurs in which anything could – and frequently did – happen, has become a classy contest dominated by Irish shamateurs (that is to say you can’t book one without a buff envelope), and there is no point in the old plodders turning up any more. In some ways that’s a shame, but the farrago of the 2019 running where the few who finished were legless was a pathetic last hurrah for the race of old.

On that cheerful note, let’s dive into the latest renewal, with just the seven runners meaning there’s no point looking for an each-way angle into the race. All seven of the runners have a chance and the first thing I want to say is that the old advice that Derek O’Connor’s mount already has a 5lb advantage is not to be believed. O’Connor has been a fine rider over the years but there are no weak links in the riding line-up here, and this race ought to go to the best horse at the trip, pure and simple.

O’Connor rides Corbett’s Cross, who was a big talking horse before running out here last year, and he was brought down in his prep race for this when the rider was given his traditional ‘feeler’ at Fairyhouse. That is hardly ideal, and while he was a respectable second in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels (Fort Leney) Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, that form hasn’t really been tested, with the winner injured and Flooring Porter (10 lengths behind Corbett’s Cross in third) reverting to hurdles. He has a chance, for sure, but is of no great interest at around 2/1 given his imperfect preparation.

Embassy Gardens, like Corbett’s Cross, was a big fancy (ante-post favourite) for the Albert Bartlett 12 months ago, but pulled up before running down the field at Punchestown. He’s won both starts over fences in the style of a useful prospect, but his defeat of Sandor Clegane at Naas saw him race on the best of the ground as the runner-up persisted with racing on the chewed-up inside, and impressive as it was, it’s very hard to put a figure on. As such, he’s short enough to be backing at current odds.

On a side note, both Corbett’s Cross and Embassy Gardens wear a hood for the first time, and while there have been several winners at the Festival to wear a first-time hood (Benefficient, Jezki and Western Warhorse to be precise), none since that trio have been successful. On the other hand, many of Willie Mullins’s runners at Cheltenham over the years have worn earplugs which have not been declared, so the figures only tell part of the story.

Salvador Ziggy has achieved as much as the pair above but is a more realistic price, with his second under 12st in the Kerry National a fine effort for a novice. He comes here after an abortive trip to run in the Grand National Hurdle at Far Hills in October, and while the absence might be a worry, he was second in the Pertemps last year off an identical lay-off. He appeals as best value of the Irish contingent.

Mr Vango has it to do on the ratings and the other three all met in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot last time, where Henry’s Friend held off Kilbeg King and Apple Away. It may look surprising that the winner is now the outsider of that trio, but he is the one least likely to stay this six-furlong longer trip, and I’m in agreement with the betting market, for all I like the horse.

Kilbeg King got low at several of his fences at Ascot but still stayed on dourly at the end to force the winner to pull out all the stops. Prior to Ascot, Kilbeg King had jumped better when a creditable third in the Grade 1 Kauto Star at Kempton, his jumping allowing him to get into contention in the home straight having been out-paced in the middle of the race by the brilliant winner.

If he can jump like he did at Kempton, then he ought to run really well for Anthony Honeyball, who was unlucky not to win this race with Ms Parfois a few years ago (winner Rathvinden would have been demoted under new whip rules). Like Ms Parfois, Kilbeg King will be ridden by Will Biddick, who has been the best English amateur at Cheltenham over the past decade and more.

APPLE AWAY is seemingly held on Reynoldstown form, but I thought she was better than the bare result at Ascot, jumping really well on the whole and trying to battle back when getting squeezed out at the final fence. She was picking up again at the line, and appeals to me as the sort to relish a thorough test of stamina. It’s worth recalling that she was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles at Aintree last April, and it’s typical of Lucinda Russell’s horses to only show their very best form in the spring. She got involved in an ill-advised pace duel when second to Grey Dawning in the Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick and my belief is that she can improve enough for the step up to 3¾m to turn the tables on the pair who beat her at Ascot.

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

Mr Vango is a forward goer, so too Apple Away; but the small field means they'll likely be steady away over this extended trip.

 

 

National Hunt Chase Selection

Selection: 1pt win APPLE AWAY at 10/1
Exotic Mixers:
Kilbeg King & Salvador Ziggy (1/4 pt combination exacta)

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And that's a wrap for Day 1 at the Cheltenham Festival 2024. Hopefully this has been an entertaining read, and with a little luck, there's a winner or three in its midst. We'll all be back to do it again tomorrow - see you then.

Be lucky!

Matt

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1 reply
  1. Mugpunter
    Mugpunter says:

    The Boodles is a nightmare and a complete placepot buster, but if any nag fits the profile of a ‘careful campaign it is Ose Partir, trained by Martin Brassil. Running in graded races the last twice both times ‘held up’, previous 2 races charged off at the front. In its maiden beaten only 1 1/4 lengths in soft ground making the running. I expect a much more prominent showing today, at 14/1 I think it’s a good £2.50 e/w shout. I also like An Bradan feasa who has course form in a good quality race with his upwardly mobile trainer in cracking form for the last 6 weeks. A couple of weeks ago he was showing a 60% S/R, now it is a miserly 30%. Ose Partir is my only ‘gut’ horse on todays card.

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